Thursday, 14 August 2014

Reading The Stranger and Slaughterhouse-Five

Last week my friend lent me two books. Clearly insinuating that I need to step away from the books written for teenagers... Embrace the pretentious one within me. 

The Stranger by Albert Camus
Meursault is a very different from other people in our society. The novel starts with the death of Meursault's mother and he does not seem to be very affected by it. He is on the whole not very interested in people around him, although he is happy to do what is asked of him. His life is fairly uneventful, right up until the point where he commits a murder and is put on trial - more for his indifference than his act.

So. I get that this is a great existential novel which is supposed to really make you think. I'm not sure what's wrong with me but for some reason it doesn't seem to affect me that much. Yes, Camus had some fascinating ideas on the philosophy of life but they just don't resonate with me at all. As a book to read purely for enjoyment, the simplistic writing in the book made me detached and I felt like the best part is the last chapter. This is where Meursault actually says interesting stuff. And then it's over. (This is why I didn't do a degree in literature.)

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
This story begins with the perspective of a narrator who has decided to write a book about the bombing of Dresden and does so through writing about a fellow soldier, Billy Pilgrim. Billy is an American soldier who becomes un-stuck in time. We follow his life as he jumps between his war experiences, post-war life as a successful optometrist and the kidnapping by aliens from Tralfamadore. The aliens explain to him that humans do not understand time, that it is not a continuum and that he is simultaneously dead and alive.

I quite enjoyed this book. The disjointed narrative (which may or may not be because of Billy Pilgrim's actual time-travel) adds to the surreal feel which works very well for a novel about such a difficult topic as war. And there is an important message about how utterly unnecessary war is. (On top of that there are some wonderful character descriptions.) I would highly recommend anyone to read this novel.

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